By Motus; Conceived and Directed by Daniela Nicolo and Enrico Casagrande
Off Off Broadway, Solo Performance Art
Runs through 1.17.16
La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club, 66 East 4th Street
by Keith Paul Medelis on 1.11.16
Silvia Calderoni in MDLSX. Photo by Alessandro Sala-Cesura.
BOTTOM LINE: Catch Motus in New York while you can.
I had the pleasure of seeing Nella Tempesta from Motus as part of LaMaMa’s Earth season last year. And what an ingenious thrill of a production it was, explicitly political with cutting edge technology to inhabit the design, interspersed with the tellingly humble. MDLSX is met with a similar velocity in performance; Silvia Calderoni is a remarkable performer akin to watching a spastic, panting lizard jugging full speed on a treadmill.
“Beauty is always a little bit hideous,” she says. Her beautiful, hideous performance makes MDLSX sustain itself through a somewhat tedious 80 minutes, compromised mostly of reading English text from the back wall while occasionally glancing to the purposefully meditative, numbing video by Alessio Spirli. You’ll wish you spoke Italian just so you can focus a bit more on Calderoni herself. Briefly, the house lights come up on us in a pause, and we realize she’s looking at us when we’ve mostly been looking above her head at the words. The respite is nice.
I was lucky to bring along a companion familiar with the novel I see in every straphanger's hands: Jeffrey Eugenides' Middlesex. I seem to be the last remaining New Yorker who hasn’t read it. MDLSX is indeed taking huge chunks of this book and materializing them onstage, interspersed with (the more interesting) home movies of Calderoni’s childhood and stories that parallel this book about being raised intersex, that is to say an assigned gender not clear from your genitalia.
It’s an altogether different trans narrative from the one popularized by Orange in the New Black, Transparent, and Caitlyn Jenner as this kind of queerness comes from a forced prescription from a doctor forcing a gendered box onto a baby because of uncertainty rather than clear labels. Calderoni's frantic attempt to assign language and meaning to things wonderfully captures this tension of existence somewhere, well, in the “mdl.”
Throughout the play, Calderoni serves as DJ, interspersing mostly contemporary American music to illustrate a portion of the story. Speaking into a microphone, directors Daniela Nicolo and Enrico Casagrande have no qualms about Calderoni’s back turned completely to us. Even her back is interesting. A large triangular piece of space-age looking fabric compromises the scenic design. It is molded and shaped throughout the piece, morphing into a mermaid costume toward the end. Its Motus’ keen light design choices, here by Alessio Spirili that make them stand out in the crowd. There’s intense color, blacklight, and a wonderfully executed light beam with surgical-precision-placement, enough to make any of us squeamish about our own genitalia. Designers of the world, take note of Motus.
In a line that I’m not sure is from Calederoni’s life or Eugenides’ novel, her father asks, “Don’t you think it would be easier to stay as you are?” The problems of this question run deep. Intersex, transgender, queer, questioning, or straight...can’t we all pause to wonder what staying anything even means? Staying as what? Where? What does “easy” even mean? What beautiful, hideous middle can we find that can make us content? Without sentiment, Calderoni declares, “This is the way I always was.” From the novel or not, and in a language we don’t understand, we believe her every syllable.
(MDLSX plays at LaMaMa, 66 East 4th Street, through January 17, 2016. The show runs 80 minutes with no intermission. Performances are 1/10 at 4; 1/11-13 at 7; January 14-16 at 8:30; and 1/17 at 4. Tickets are $25, $20 for students and seniors, and there are $10 advance sale tickets for each show available online at lamama.org. More information can be found online and by calling 646.430.5374.)
MDLSX is written by Motus. It is directed and conceived by Daniela Nicolo and Enrico Casagrande with dramaturgy by Nicolo and Silvia Calderoni. Lighting and Video Design by Alessio Spirli. Sound Design by Enrico Casagrande in collaboration with Paolo Baldini and Damiano Bagli. Production by Elisa Bartolucci and Valentina Zangari.
MDLSX is performed by Silvia Calderoni.